Why I joined the Etsy Strike


I'm closing my Etsy shop from April 11th to April 18th in response to Etsy's rising fees and anti-creator policies, and in solidarity with other artisans and vintage sellers on the platform. My standalone online shop, kwohtations.com, remains open if you'd like to shop and support. 

The strike has been covered in articles like this one by Mia Sato in the Verge and there is a lot more information on Etsystrike.org, as well as a petition you can sign. But I also wanted to share come context, in case it's helpful for those who haven't been following as closely, as well as my own thoughts and experiences: 

I joined Etsy in 2011 to sell my handmade greeting cards. It was a really easy and accessible way for me to put my products online, and I give Etsy a lot of credit for creating a new marketplace that made it easier for individuals like myself to start a small online business. I am still an Etsy seller, but the company has evolved over the last few years in ways that are concerning to me.

Etsy became a publicly traded company in 2015, underwent a series of layoffs and a leadership change, and has since made a series of changes meant to drive up Etsy sales—and thereby company profits—at the cost of hurting many of the individual sellers that make up the marketplace.

Below are the Etsy Strike Demands (as stated on Etsystrike.org), with my own explanations, thoughts, and experiences: 

Etsy Strike Demands

Demand 1: Cancel the fee increase.
In February, Etsy announced to sellers that they had experienced tremendous growth since 2019—Etsy revenue increased 111% to $1.7 billion in 2020. As a result, they are raising transaction fees by 30% from 5% to 6.5%. This is the second fee increase in the last four years, and represents a doubling of fees since 2018. 

What does this mean for sellers? Between Etsy's transaction and other mandatory fees (listing fees, processing fees, shipping fees, marketing fees) I currently pay Etsy ~28% of what I earn on each sale (this varies between sellers, but anecdotally my numbers aren't out of line with many others). This fee increase means that I will likely be paying ~30% of sales to Etsy. 

Paying transaction and service fees is inevitable if you have an e-commerce business—and justified, given that you are paying for a service. But that said, I think Etsy's fees are becoming unnecessarily and overly burdensome for its sellers. For context, Etsy fees end up being almost double what I pay in fees for my standalone Kwohtations online shop. Raising fees right now feels especially heartless and difficult as many of us are facing rising costs given global shortages.

While Etsy states that the additional fees will go to investments in marketing, support, and technology, I am not convinced that these investments will actually drive profits to individual sellers, nor that these changes are what sellers truly want or have been asking for (see demands below). What we want is to be able to make a fair financial return on selling the fruits of our creativity and labor, so that we can sustain our lives and provide for ourselves and our families.  

Etsy's success is driven by—and dependent on—the creativity, entrepreneurship, skills, and labor of its sellers. We should be sharing in the company's success, rather than subjected to fee increases as a result of its success. 

Demand 2: Crack down on resellers with a comprehensive plan that is transparent, so sellers can hold Etsy accountable.

Etsy's company motto is "keeping commerce human." It started out as a curated marketplace where people could sell and buy handmade and vintage goods—a new kind of market for people to make/find unique goods made by real humans with care. Many buyers turn to Etsy as an alternative to Amazon and big box retailers because they want to shop for unique, well-crafted products, but also because they care about things like sustainability, ethical labor practices, and being able to have a personal exchange with the maker. 

Over the years, in order to drive more sales, Etsy has relaxed its definition of "handmade" and allowed resellers to join Etsy, e.g. sellers who buy manufactured products (often from sites like Alibaba) and resell them on Etsy for a profit. Tellingly, the company gave up its B Corp certification* after going public.

I worry that the relaxing of who can become an Etsy seller has/will:

  • Drive potential buyers away from Etsy altogether because it is increasingly hard to parse through all of the shops and determine who is a maker and who is a reseller
  • Make it harder for buyers searching on Etsy to find me and other creators in the first place given the sheer number of Etsy shops now (Etsy had 7.5 million active shops in 2021)
  • Drive sales away from my and other creators' shops on Etsy because we can't compete price-wise with similar mass-produced items
  • Incentivize copyright infringement, as other Etsy sellers are able to create and sell knock-off versions of original designs (this happened to me on Etsy in 2020)

Demand 3: Give ‘Golden’ support tickets to sellers affected by extreme AI actions (account termination, 45/90 day holds, etc.)

While I haven't experience this myself, I know of Etsy shops who have had their shops temporarily or permanently closed due to the Etsy algorithm bots flagging a supposed violation. It is notoriously hard for sellers to reach a real person at Etsy to help with resolving these issues, and in the meantime, they are unable to sell their goods and run their businesses. 

Demand 4: End the Star Seller Program.

In 2020, Etsy instituted the Star Seller Program as a way to influence seller behavior. This program rewards sellers who:

  1. Respond to 95%+ of initial messages within 24 hours
  2. Receive 5-star ratings on 95%+ of orders
  3. Ship 95%+ of orders on time with tracking
  4. Have a minimum of 10 orders and $300 of sales every 3 months

Etsy wants to compete with Amazon, but Amazon is built on exploitative labor practices that I'm afraid these Star Seller criteria are mimicking. These criteria don't take into consideration the reality of and variety among Etsy sellers, and unfairly demote sellers who can't meet these criteria for very reasonable reasons, e.g.

  1. Re: messages: Many of us have obligations and lives outside of running our Etsy businesses; requiring that sellers respond to messages within 24 hours, including weekends, does not recognize or honor those limitations or chosen boundaries. 
  2. Re: ratings: Yes, if you make a good product and provide good service, you will likely receive more good ratings. That said, anyone who has sold anything online knows that many people don't give more than 4-stars as a matter of principle, or dock stars for reasons that are outside the seller's control (e.g., delayed packages due to USPS, it wasn't what they expected despite being accurately described in the listing). 
  3. Re: shipping with tracking: This pushes sellers to ship all of their orders with tracking. Sellers for whom it makes sense to ship smaller items (e.g. individual stickers and cards) with the cheaper, untracked option, will have to charge their customers more or eat the higher cost of sending everything with tracking. 

Demand 4: Give all sellers the ability to opt out of Offsite Ads.

Etsy has an Offsite Ads program that advertises on behalf of sellers, but charges sellers 12-15% of every item sold through Offsite Ads. Sellers of a certain size are not able to opt out of the program. Etsy purports to use the fee increase towards marketing, but the Offsite Ads program pushes advertising fees back onto sellers. 


Some last thoughts

I've heard some sellers say that they're not participating because they don't think it will change anything. Do I think Etsy will meet the strike's demands listed above? Probably not. But the same can be said for any individual protest, any strike, and any decision to stand up for fair and better treatment for yourself and/or others. I don't think that the fact that it may not change anything is a good enough reason to not try. If we take that attitude, nothing will ever change.

Also, if enough of us speak up enough times and loudly enough, I believe we do have the potential to change institutions as large and seemingly immovable as governments and corporations. Maybe this strike won't be the action that leads to change, but I think it can be one in a chain of actions over time that will raise public awareness and put pressure on Etsy to change for the better.   

I've also heard people say, “Why don't you just go sell somewhere else if you don't like working with Etsy?” I think that this presumes that there are easy alternatives for people to transition to, and that there isn't a significant cost of leaving a platform where you've built up sales, reviews, and a customer base. I also think there is something to be said about trying to make a place better, rather than just leaving even if you can, because not everyone has that same luxury. 

Lastly, Etsy often celebrates the creativity and resilience of its makers, and highlights individual Etsy shops as part of their marketing campaigns. Since 2020, riding the wave of racial and social outrage, Etsy has been promoting Black-owned Etsy shops, AAPI owned Etsy shops, and queer-owned Etsy shops.  However, the recent changes that Etsy has enacted are detrimental—and arguably exploitative—to the very sellers it purports to celebrate and support, and whose presence and stories it uses to drive sales.

My hope is that Etsy can find its way back to its original promise of "keeping commerce human" and being a marketplace that has people not profits, at its center. I don't think it is as simple as Etsy is good or bad; or that we sellers should stay and appreciate it for what it is, or leave in search of a better option. We can appreciate Etsy for what it enables and for what it aspires to, while also holding it accountable and pushing it to be better. 



P.S. I understand that many Etsy sellers can't afford to close down their shop for a week, which is a very real concern and a valid reason. I am myself unsure about the short-term and long-term financial impacts of me participating in the Etsy strike (in addition to lost profits from the week, many sellers say that putting your shop on vacation mode dings you in Etsy's algorithm). I've decided to participate in the strike because this is what is doable and feels right to me, but there are always a variety of actions that can be taken, including sharing your concerns directly with Etsy HQ and/or with other customers to raise awareness.


*B Corp Certification is a designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.


1 comment

Thanks so much for writing and sharing this blog post, Janine! Super comprehensive and clear explanation what’s going on and great thing for us consumers to be aware of.

Carmen May 12, 2022

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